The Equinox Convergence is Erik Orrantia’s second book and follows on the heels of his Lambda Literary Award winning novel Normal Miguel. The seasonal equinox – a balance between equal parts of light and darkness – serves as the metaphor for this incredibly gripping mystery suspense thriller that delves into the human capacity for both good and evil and how given certain circumstances and motivations, seemingly decent people can be drawn into the depths of darkness. The fictitious rural Mexican town of Carritza located 120 kilometres north of Acapulco in the Province of Guerrero, and the neighbouring Ejido Mapolombampo the indigenous village of the Núkul Tribe and the Tribe’s adjoining traditional lands are the main settings for this story where worlds collide – that of Mexico’s drug trade and traditional indigenous life.
Atua is of the Núkul Tribe and the adopted daughter of At’tansa Ikana (Revered One), the Núkul’s healer and spiritual leader. Although the Tribe is patrilineal and by tradition the title of curandera (shaman) falls to the male line, Atua seeks to follow in her father’s footsteps and become the spiritual guide of her people. Her father encourages this by imparting Núkul teachings and practices and including her in traditional ceremonies so that she may learn and grow to fulfil her aspirations and destiny.
Bennie is a young man who works at the El Pueblito ice-making shop supplying the Town of Carritza and neighbouring communities with ice. But he wants more out of life; to have more money in his pocket; to be more than an ice-maker; to live a different kind of life. As a means of achieving his dreams, Bennie along with his work mate Poste run drugs for Saul a drug lab supervisor who works for Tio Che, a powerful and mysterious drug lord. But with the government’s latest crackdown in the war against drugs and in response to police corruption, the military is dispatched to Carritza to break the ring of drug manufacturing and stop the flow of trafficking and Bennie quickly realizes that he is trapped in a world from which there is no escape. Bennie’s drug runs take him through Núkul territory and his world collides with that of Atua’s placing them both in mortal danger.
The opening scene in this novel is a jolting one and with each chapter the mystery and suspense is incrementally and continuously heightened plunging the reader into a page-turning web of intrigue and suspense as the story unfolds. The author achieves this with chapters that are relatively short in length and by alternating the first person perspective amongst and between Atua and Bennie and the story’s multitude of recurring and occasional secondary characters. Although Atua and Bennie are the primary characters in this tale, it is truly an ensemble cast and each character holds a certain piece of the story’s puzzle, which they slowly reveal with each chapter through their respective narratives.
This has the effect of continuously maintaining a tautness of suspense as to what will happen next and eventually the multiple perspectives converge to reveal the mystery. It also serves as a means of providing the reader with a wealth of insight into each character’s back story, motivations and actions thereby bringing a fundamental understanding of who these characters are and enabling the reader to establish a level of empathy, if not outright compassion in certain cases, for characters such as Bennie and Saul even when they are committing unspeakable acts in their desperation to survive. In this, I have yet to come across an author with such an innate talent and ability for writing multiple voices and perspectives in such a distinctively concise manner as Mr. Orrantia. We get a glimpse of this aspect of his writing in Normal Miguel, but, in my opinion, the in-the-round multiple character perspective technique employed in The Equinox Convergence is taken to an altogether higher level of writing.
Mr. Orrantia has publicly stated his need to write about his adopted country of Mexico and in The Equinox Convergence he continues to illustrate the facets of Mexican life. Through his writing the author demonstrates an intrinsic knowledge and understanding of the political, social, economic and cultural dimensions of this country and its peoples. He has written Mexico’s world of drug trade with an unnerving sense of realism, depicting its brutality and violence with a sobering and stark honesty. This coupled with his firm grasp of rural life in Mexico and the divide between socio-economic affluence and disparity, the author deftly nuances the links between poverty and the lure of the drug economy. Equally, his writing of indigenous life through the fictitious Núkul Tribe, which is a synthesis of the ethno-cultural, linguistic and spiritual ways of life of several indigenous nations in Mexico, resonates as respectful and authentic without the stereotypical romanticisation or voice appropriation too often experienced in fiction written about indigenous peoples by non-indigenous authors. Atua emerges as a foundational and well-nuanced character in this respect because she represents a level of universality in indigenous perspectives and voices in reaction to colonialism and its destruction of indigenous ways of life. Atua also emerges as foundational to the underlying theme of the story and the character through which the other characters are measured in respect of the balance of light and darkness.
Even though he does not have a multitude of published works, it is not difficult to understand why Mr. Orrantia is an award-winning author. The writing in The Equinox Convergence emerges as uniquely Orrantia – exceptional prose, descriptions that are rich and intricate but that do not intrude, an in depth understanding of, and sensitivity to, the complexities and diversity of Mexico and superb characterization. I was completely and utterly engrossed in this mystery suspense thriller to such a degree that I lost track of my place in the story and did not realise that I had come to the final page of the book, which ends in a masterfully written cliff-hanger. The story and characters in this novel continue to linger and I await the sequel with great anticipation. Most highly recommended.
The Equinox Convergence by Erik Orrantia is available in ebook format at Amazon and at OmniLit.
This is an amazing review. I don’t think I could have summed up the story any better myself…and I wrote it! Also, your insight, as always, is poignant and thoughtful. I thank you for sharing and all the time you spent to do so!
Thank you! It was a pleasure reading and reviewing your novel. An incredibly suspenseful story, beautifully written and yes, I was so truly engrossed in the story that I didn’t consciously realise I’d gotten to the end of the book, something that has never happened to me! I am very much looking forward to the sequel.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment.
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Indi, excellent review!
Okay, so… you know I have Normal Miguel and have not read it yet. Shame on me because I’ve had it in my list ever since it released. 😦 However, the way you describe this book? It sounds just up my alley… and it’s just the type of book I’m looking for at this time. A few questions though:
You mention Mr. Orratia uses different perspectives (we addressed this subject at my blog when discussing Vargas Llosa’s novel), how many perspectives does he use, and does he separate them by chapter? And I see that my next question is answered above in your answer to Mr. Orratia’s comment — you mention a cliffhanger at the end, and I was curious as to weather there is a sequel in the works. I see there is. However, I do have another question: did the novel feel incomplete to you because there is a cliffhanger and a sequel? Or did it have a satisfying conclusion despite the cliffhanger? Did it feel like a complete piece to you? Just curious. 🙂
You must read Normal Miguel and yes I think you would very much enjoy The Equinox Convergence. Both books are set in Mexico, the writing is exceptional in both and both books provide aspects of life in Mexico, but that is where the similarities end. Distinctively, two very different sub-genres, stories, etc. To answer your questions:
There are some 30 characters in this novel including Atua and Bennie (the primary characters) and I’d say about 5 to 6 recurring secondary characters that appear throughout the novel and have prominent roles. The rest are occasional secondary characters. Some are more prominent in certain parts of the story, others appear once and never again. But all the characters contribute to advancing the plot and story. The author provides a list of characters and locations at the beginning of the book, but honestly after consulting each of the lists once before I began reading I did not need to refer back to them. And this is precisely because each character’s POV is concisely separated by chapter. There is no mixing of POVs within any given chapter. Some chapters are quite short others longer (but still by definition short), this also advances the plot because again each character holds a piece of the puzzle and slowly the reader starts to see the bigger picture but while the mystery is “revealed” it is not “resolved” and this relates to the cliff hanger.
When I picked up and began reading the novel I did not know that there would be a cliff hanger or a sequel. (The author subsequently confirmed that there will be a sequel but no ETA as to when). As I mentioned in my review I was so caught up in the actual story to such a degree that I wasn’t paying attention to pagination and found myself on the last page without even realizing. After my initial surprise, mostly at myself for being so absorbed in the story, and not knowing for sure as to a sequel I sat back and thought while it ends in a cliff hanger the story still works and was complete for me because of the nature of the drug world itself and the over-arching theme of the story – often good (light) does not always prevail over evil (darkness) and all too often there is no balance between the two. I realize it may not work for other readers because they need closure. But I go back to the nature of the world in this story (intricately orgaized crime with powerful and dangerous people) where the proverbial good guy doesn’t always win.
Hils, I hope you do read both books and would be quite interested in your thoughts on both.
Thanks for your interest! I might add that my editor had strongly encouraged the cliff-hanger. I had never written nor intended to write a sequel, but she wanted to keep it open. I believe she saw promise for the book and, as Indi says, the world of drug trading is perpetual. And to answer both of your questions, I actually have written the sequel. I am waiting for this one to catch on before I consider releasing it. In the meantime, I am glad to know that the intended ending does give enough closure. I don’t like being left overly hanging either. Suerte y salud!
Indi, thank you for clarifying the question of perspectives for me. I do find that when reading books that are narrated from multiple POVs, having those perspectives separated by chapters makes the experience more effective. As to the cliff hanger question: it’s important for me that there’s at least partial resolution to the work at hand, if not to the overall story arc. I understand that there are some stories that are not open-ended because of the nature of the subject matter, though. Thanks for your thorough answer.
Hello Mr. Orratia,
Thank you for answering my questions. I am definitely interested. 🙂 It’s also great to know that the sequel is done, now after reading this one I can look forward to the end and the overall experience. Gracias y suerte a usted en el futuro!